Hereworth pays $200k in court case

By Victoria White

2 comments
Ross Scrymgeour was principal of Hereworth School while Mrs Fox was employed there.
Ross Scrymgeour was principal of Hereworth School while Mrs Fox was employed there.

A "lengthy and intensive case" has ended with a Hawke's Bay school ordered to pay a former employee a total of almost $200,000 .

In an Employment Court decision released yesterday the prestigious Hereworth School has been ordered to pay former teacher, Emma Fox, more than $96,000 for legal costs.

This is in addition to $85,600 Mrs Fox was awarded in November for unjustified dismissal, after she appealed an earlier decision by the Employment Relations Tribunal.

Mrs Fox began teaching at the Havelock North school in 2008 and said she was unfairly dismissed in 2010 after a string of accusations and disagreements regarding a disagreement over her students' grades.

In 2009 she said she was asked by the head of the junior school, Shirley Cameron, to alter the grades on students' reports from the year before to cover up any perceived decline in academic progress since the children had left her classroom.

Hereworth later dismissed the accusation and Ms Cameron said she was trying to ensure all teaching staff were following a standardised marking practice.

The allegation spiralled to a series of alleged events over a number of years, including confrontations with staff, stolen paperwork, internet slander and formal complaints that involved the New Zealand Teachers Council, police, the Privacy Commission and Ombudsman, and the British Columbia Council of Teachers.

Among Mrs Fox's grievances was that the school had appointed the deputy chairman of the school's board, Doug Abraham, to investigate the dispute while she had been told it would be an "independent consultant".

The case was first heard in 2012. The following year the Employment Court upheld the school's view, but Mrs Fox appealed the decision.

In November 2014 the court heard she would be seeking payment of four years and six weeks of lost remuneration at the rate of $59,204 per annum; a total of $243,647 - three times the $85,600 she was eventually awarded. The decision released yesterday came after a seven-day hearing, which involved evidence given by 10 witnesses and almost 1000 pages of documents. The decision stated: "By the Employment Court's standards, it was a lengthy and intensive case."

In the decision Chief Judge Graeme Colgan awarded Mrs Fox a total $96,482.03. This included $80,000 toward her costs in the substantive proceedings in the court, $4300.32 toward costs in the employment relations authority, and disbursements of $12,181.

The sum is payable by May 2, or the school can pay the amount in instalments with interest by November 2.

How the events unfolded:

2008: Emma Fox begins at Hereworth School as a junior teacher of students in years 1 to 4.

2009: Fox alleges the head of the junior school, Shirley Cameron, asked her to alter the grades on students' reports from 2008 to cover any perceived decline in academic progress.

2009: After a chain of events triggered by a disagreement about the grades, deputy chairman of the school's board, Doug Abraham, is asked to investigate the dispute.

2010: While on maternity leave, Fox's employment by the school ends.

September 2012: Fox's filed unjustifiable dismissal complaint is heard by the Employment Relations Tribunal in Hastings District Court, with Fox represented by her husband, David Fox, via video link from Australia, and Hereworth School represented by Stuart Webster.

February 2013: A 37-page decision from the Employment Relations Authority determines Fox's claim of unfair dismissal "fails in its entirety''. Fox says she intends to appeal the decision.

September 2014: The case is heard by the Employment Court before Chief Judge Graeme Colgan. Through her lawyer, Fox says she is seeking payment of four years, six weeks of lost remuneration at the rate of $59,204 per annum.

November 2015: Fox wins the appeal and is awarded $85,600 compensation after an Employment Court decision finds she was unjustifiably dismissed.

April 2016: After a seven-day hearing to determine the amount of costs to be awarded to Fox, Hereworth School is ordered to pay $96,482.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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